Martin Hadden : The Final Wizard

by Laurie Devine,
Dirty Linen October 1993

Silly Wizard is the band which might have achieved it all, and yet, in its own way, actually did.

With a slightly different turn of fate, they might have turned moderate commercial success into international fame.

With a slightly different turn, they could have given traditional music from Scotland the kind of notoriety that Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention had given English Folk Rock.

In the late 70's, music around the world was suffering from a pablum identity. Everything sounded uninteresting, uniform and uncreative. Psychedelic had yielded to mod, which had yielded to electronic nothingness.

Silly Wizard, with their blend of traditional tunes and Andy Stewart's increasingly powerful songs, had somehow infused the old music with new life. Yet while they were not Folk Rock (they were a new element defined as Revival), this band was different. In its Scottishness, the band was unique and brash.

Record executives in London noted this and were prepared to offer the band a significant amount of money for a major label commitment--in excess of L100,000. Were their marketing plan to be realized, Silly Wizard would be set to tour the world, espousing the glory of Scotland.

In strategic negotiations reminiscent of arraying troops in the bog at Culloden, Scotland failed to seize that day. The record company was handed ever-increasing demands by management, which finally led to losing the deal. Silly Wizard, and its new bassist, Martin Hadden, were returned to the fold of esoteric Celticicism.

Martin Hadden, otherwise known as Mame, would become the symbol of the band's conflicts and achievements.

Purists would tirade that it was not "traditional" to incorporate electric bass in Celtic music. It was an argument that had been levelled against Fairport and Steeleye earlier, but in protective Scotland, there was more compulsion against electronics.

"When I joined the Wizard,...we went through that whole criticism. 'You can't play folk music with an electric instrument.' The feeling was quite strong then. The Revival hadn't taken over in Scotland, and people had this entrenched attitude...Be we thought, 'Right, well if you're going to go down that road, then you can only play the clarsach and the pipes, because those are the only traditional Scottish instruments.' We were young and pig-headed and we decided we'd play what we liked. Ironically, at the end of the band, we were being seen as conservative in our electronics..."

Joining in 1976, Mame Hadden was the final member of Silly Wizard's best known lineup. When previous bassist, Alasdair Donaldson, quit, a number of musicians were considered as replacements. Andy Stewart was determined the job would go to his friend, and former Puddock's Well partner.

"Andy did this sort of move. The rest of the band, there was this guy who played bass in Edinburgh and was really good, but before he could sort of show up for rehearsal, Andy and I met up in Aberdeen. He drove me to Edinburgh for the audition and spent the whole trip coaching me, 'When you're playing the first verse of this tune, lay back, because Johnny likes that, and on the next one, play it this way.' He gave me all the low down, so with this forewarning, even though the other guy was good, it was me."

Andy and Mame had shared their adolescence in the Perthshire town of Blairgowrie. Mame, five years younger, had looked up to Andy, older brother Kenny Hadden, and Dougie MacLean, who had formed the Blairgowrie Folk Club, and whose lives seemed more exciting.

"The music was a very positive sort of thing for me at that point...It just sort of arrived at my house. Dougie, Andy and them would drop by to play with Kenny. They had cars, which was a big deal, andthey'd take me along to dances, then festivals...I never learned to drive until I was 30, because there was always someone else."

Mame had never set out to be a bassist. In truth, while off elsewhere one summer, the idea for Puddock's Well had been hatched. A previous band called Cruachan, including Dougie, Andy and Kenny, had toured Germany, but they wanted a bigger sound. When they returned, they bought a bass guitar for L25 and looked for someone to play it.

Kenny Hadden had left for the University in Aberdeen, to be replaced in the numbers by Ewan Sutherland. Mame seemed the logical choice on bass, and so--with absolutely no experience on the instrument--he was brought in to give it a try.

"We went down to Dougie's parents on the weekend and I managed to hit enough right notes that they said, 'Right, by the way, we had a gig on Monday night.' We were lucky--We started as the house band at the folk club in Blairgowrie and were soon playing regularly to 300 people. It was hard because we were all working at other jobs."

If Puddock's Well was an artistic success based on the members alone, they never recorded commercially and finally surrended to poverty.

Its members did, however, figure prominently in the creation of two of Scotland's most significant bands-- Silly Wizard and the Tannahill Weavers.

"Puddock's Well only lasted about 8 or 9 months...Shortly after that, Dougie left to join the Tannahills and.,Andy left for Silly Wizard. The band must have had its mark, because all of the repertoire started appearing in those two bands, particularly Tannahill, even matching its tempo and inflection we had used."

With the dissolution of Puddock's Well, the other members may have been absorbed elsewhere, but Mame Hadden was thrown further into working class Scotland, in Aberdeen, with employment as a welder. When Andy's call came, and the assistance was offered, he was ready for full time musicianship.

By now, Puddock's Well's unbidden bassist had sharpened his skills. Musically, he may be the most misunderstood and underestimated member of Silly Wizard. Haunting licks and infrequent bass solos make his strength obvious.

The greater value to the band may have been his innate ability to infuse a strong undergirding to Andy Stewart's songs or the instrumental sets of the Cunningham brothers. It was Mame who unified the sound and made it distinctive.

Arrangements, according to all members of Silly Wizard, were democratic. Artistically, each had his own contribution--some were more traditional, some more divergent, some more ornate. Yet when the total sound was finalized, it always had that characteristic percussive bass that causes Scottish Superband Clan Alba to seek Mame Hadden out of retirement as the best bassist in Scotland during recent years. (He gigged with them for a few weeks, then opted for the quieter life at home).

The friendship between Andy Stewart and Martin Hadden was based on more than the music and common background. They shared a value in their homeland, traditions and character. They also had, and still retain, an ability to barb at the minds of each other with intellectually devastating wit.

In Andy Stewart's probing, punching patter, he found his foil in Mame. Only slightly quieter, Mame can quickly ponder the thought, interpret it, and alter it to convenience, unpredictably. Where Andy might leave his listener wondering how to respond, Mame might leave him agreeing to an absurdity never understood. He seems so reasonable and placid that you automatically accept the truth of his jokes.

There would be a danger in seeing Martin Hadden as the stable member of the band as is often alleged. Indeed, these days he conveys the image of the elder statesman, though doubtless too young.

But it was Mame who, too often, in his own state of insobriety, was called upon to nudge the others into the vehicle of that particular night, so that they could sleep it off for the next day's gig. Keystone Cops' images of him pushing one body in, while another falls out the other door, have been drawn.

It was Mame whose relative emotional gentleness tempered the more volatile members of the band at times, and who was often the friend to everyone. The stress of the tour might have gotten to him also, but he coped differently.

It was Mame who, while Andy Stewart was strangling during a San Francisco gig (his voice having surrendered to 25 consecutive nights of work), calmly hustled off mid-set to find a drink, helping his mate and barely missing a beat himself.

Today Martin Hadden is living out the dream that he originally expressed as a youth in Puddock's Well.

"We all knew that one day we wanted families. It wasn't the typical bragging thing that a lot of young bands have...We were living it out for that moment, but it was just that. Someday, in the future, we would have children and share it all with them." That was what the music meant. It was posterity for all people perhaps, but especially for their own families.

Martin Hadden cannot fail to see the contributions that Silly Wizard made in opening up music from Scotland, and the Celtic nations. Bands now tour America to full venues that Silly Wizard pioneered. Their recordings continue to sell in the thousands, while the band last performed in 1988. Dozens of young bands adopt the playing techniques of Johnny and Phil Cunningham, the on-stage patter of Andy Stewart, and the bass delivery of Mame Hadden.

But Silly Wizard itself has never officially dissolved. They just finished playing one night. With a drink and a goodbye it was over....See you next time.

Could there be a reunion?

"Who could ever say?" Martin answers. "We could never do it unless we did it right. I'd rather we never performed again than to do it just to play the same old songs...But if it could be done right..."

Whether Silly Wizard ever reforms may be unimportant. Given the character of its members, they were simply unable to perform without originality and creativity, to continue in a rut as some bands have done. They would not allow themselves to become another "has been band."

All of the members of Silly Wizard have gone on in the music, in different directions. Yet all of these directions reflect the band's obsession with production and the steeping each received in it.

Johnny Cunningham, fiddles actively throughout the world, most recently with Nightnoise and the Celtic Fiddle Festival. He also gigs on his own and handles production and music-writing when at home in the Boston area.

Phil Cunningham, keyboards and accordions, lives near Inverness and operates one of Scotland's foremost production studios. Occasionally he performs, though many would proclaim not often enough. Scottish critics continue to proclaim that he plays too fast and misses the point of the tradition.

Andy Stewart, the Wizard's vocalist and banjo/whistle player, spends most of his time on lighting and theatrical projects in Scotland, taking some time each year for jaunts to North America, writing new songs and sharing them. He resides in a small village near Edinburgh.

Gordon Jones, guitar and bodhran, has returned to his English homeland and operates HarbourtownRecords with original member Bob Thomas. The focus of Harbourtown is traditional and singer/songwriter material. The emphasis is on quality production.

Only Martin Hadden has truly remained at home. He operates a tape duplication service in the wilds near Blairgowrie. With his wife and family, he dwells amid roving deer and running streams, just as the Wizard songs always proclaimed. It could easily be the cover from their early release, Caledonia's Hardy Sons.

The setting offers contrast to the level of activity each day. Musicians constantly turn to him for advice, production assistance, information about the music scene, and his knowledge of band administration. Mame quietly shares what he can, and works for them. He makes the requisite profit from the tape reproduction, the emotional satisfaction from the artists he helps.

In addition, he works advocating a re-emergence of the Scottish National Party, but defers actual candidacy to other "more worthy" folks.

While the other members of the Wizard seem to continue searching for something indefinite, Martin Hadden seems simply grateful for the opportunities and life he has had.

If Silly Wizard had achieved that international fame for which it once seemed destined, life would have been more complicated for him. Perhaps, then, this was not only the inevitable ending. Perhaps it was the better one.

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